MITCHELL — Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cameron Wall discovered his interest in ballooning, which has afforded him opportunities to travel the world.

As a young boy, he remembers attending the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta where balloonists from around the world would fly.

“That’s really what drew my attention to ballooning,” Wall said. “I haven’t missed that event ever in my life.”

While Wall walked through the field of balloons, he admired the pilots’ skills and camaraderie.

“I was always in the field looking at the balloons and looking up to the pilots,” Wall said. “They were my heroes growing up.”

Wall, 21, is the only member of his family involved in ballooning. At the age of 5, his parents coordinated with some friends to take Wall on his first balloon ride.

“From that point, my passion grew into an obsession,” he said.

During a summer, when Wall was 13 years old, he asked his mom if he could start training. His neighbor would give him rides almost everyday that summer.

“He’d pick me up and I crewed for him,” Wall said. “If there weren’t passengers he was taking, I got a lesson in flying the balloon.”

With his knowledge and experience around balloons growing, Walln signed up for a youth balloon camp in Pennsylvania. While he was there, he purchased his first balloon envelope at the age of 16. Once he came home, he flew as much as he could, so he could obtain his pilot’s certificate.

“Commercial pilots would come fly with me so I could get my hours,” he said. “I got my pilot’s certificate the following year.”

Once he had his certificate, Wall decided he wanted to get involved in balloon competitions. He started as a navigator in charge of operating computers for the pilots. Competing took him to Lithuania during the women’s world championship. He also toured Europe for a couple weeks where he continued learning his craft.

Following those experiences, Wall decided to compete. The nationals event, held in conjunction with the Old West Balloon Fest Aug. 10-17, will be wall’s first national competition and third summer of competition.

 “It is about being consistent in how I’m flying everyday. I’m focused on my flying everyday, so that’s taking pressure off the nerves.”

He arrived Wednesday before the competition to allow time for practice runs and get him familiar with the area’s landscape. He has never been to Nebraska, but has competed in the Midwest.

“When I started competing in the Midwest, it took a little bit of adjusting,” he said. “Nebraska has different landscapes so the sun will heat the earth differently, causing different winds.”

By arriving early, Wall said it takes the element of surprise and some of his nervousness out during competition. He also will have time to visit local attractions, including the Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Prior to each day’s competition, the pilots will receive coordinates for the targets where they have to drop their bean bags.

“People fly for fun everyday of the year, but what I love is being able to challenge myself to get to a pinpoint on a map from miles away and these tasks do that,” Wall said. “To me, it’s a feeling of accomplishment to navigate Mother Nature and what God gave me with the wind without a steering wheel and engine.”

Wall will fly Summer Saver at nationals and will be the youngest pilot. His first flight in Summer Saver was in early July. Since then, he has flown in it a few times.

“I can’t wait to get in Nebraska and explore.”

During the first day of competition, Wall burned panels on his balloon.

After Monday’s national championship flight, he was the only rookie ranked in the top 10.

“I was really happy about that,” he said. “I never want to start in the top three because that puts a lot of pressure that I have to maintain as opposed to working my way up.”

Following Friday's competition, Wall was in 35th place as he decided to not fly on a couple of tasks due to the conditions. Still, he approached each day of competition with a smile on his face.

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Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at lauren.brant@starherald.com.

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